(CN) – New York’s prevailing wage laws do not apply to all charter school construction projects, the New York Court of Appeals ruled.
In 2007 the New York Department of Labor informed the Charter Schools Institute and the state Department of Education that it would start enforcing prevailing wage laws on charter school projects.
This was a change from the labor department’s position, which it articulated in 2000, that charter schools were exempt from such laws because they were not public entities.
The New York Charter School Association took the matter to court, joined by three charter schools and two foundations that support the creation of New York charter schools.
The lower court ruled that a charter school is created by a contract with a public entity, so a building project must be considered a public work governed by prevailing wage laws.
However, an appellate division reversed that decision, ruling that charter schools are not public entities and that charter agreements are not contracts involving the employment of laborers.
The case went to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, where Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. affirmed the appellate division’s ruling.
“[C]harter schools are not governed by appointees of the government, but by a self-selecting board of trustees that has ‘final authority for policy and operational decisions of the school,'” Pigott wrote. “Further, the Legislature made clear that charter schools are exempt from all other state and local laws, rules, regulations or policies governing public schools.”
Though the court sided with the charter schools in this case, Pigott acknowledged that “[t]here may be contracts where a charter school is acting in place of, or on behalf of and for the benefit of a public entity, where the prevailing wage law may apply.”
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman dissented, arguing that “charter schools are, in essence, public schools performing a vital public service and should be treated as such for the purposes of the prevailing wage rate requirement.”